by Megan John
Whitworth volleyball split games at home this week, falling to the Whitman Missionaries before earning its first win this season against the Willamette Bearcats.
The Pirates received the first point of the game against Whitman with a kill by junior Abi Hedlund. Whitman responded with a 7-0 run. Whitworth was unable to catch back up and lost the set 25-18.
Whitworth came out strong in the second set, once again scoring the first point. This time, however, they kept the lead through almost the entire game.
“It’s nice that we can come back after losing the first set, but we have got to figure out how to start better in the first place,” head coach Steve Rupe said.
Solid defense, led by senior libero Whitney Santos, helped the Pirates to a 25-17 set victory.
“Whitney had really great defense tonight. She had a lot of crucial plays that helped us pick up our energy,” junior right side hitter Jalana White said. “We also just worked really hard on finding what was open on the other side and we finally kind of figured them out.”
Whitman took the lead early in the third set before kills from White and freshman setter Shawna Korshavn tied the game at 10. The Missionaries regained the lead with a kill and an ace, and Whitworth was never able to fully recover, losing 25-17.
Santos and sophomore middle blocker Tori LaBrie were catalysts in a competitive back-and-forth match. Just as the Bucs were about to tie the set for the ninth time, Whitman pulled away to win 25-20.
“We’re so close in all of our games and it’s frustrating,” White said. “But once we kind of mesh and start trusting each other more and playing as a team, everything is going to fall in place.”
That became evident in Whitworth’s next game on Saturday night against the Bearcats. The first set alone had 13 ties and eight lead changes, but Whitworth came out on top as a kill from junior middle blocker Briauna Stadeli pulled the Bucs away from an 18-18 tie and into a 25-19 win.
“There was just more thought when they were going up,” Rupe said. “We were able to funnel the ball where we wanted it to go so we were able to do what we want with it.”
That focused style of play continued into the second set. The Pirates controlled most of the game, with Willamette only leading for a short period of time early in the set, and won 25-21 to put them up 2-0 in the match.
The momentum completely changed in the third game, starting off with a 3-0 lead for Willamette. The Pirates’ defense struggled to keep up and Whitworth was only able to get six kills before Willamette ended the set on top.
Despite the difficult third set, Whitworth was able to come back and win in a final fourth set.
“We never give up, we fight for every ball, and that shows in our play,” Santos said. “It shows on and off the court and the crowd can see it as well.”
Another momentum shift allowed Whitworth to come back from the third set loss. As the Bucs played longer and harder, the crowd grew more excited and the team responded.
“It feels so good to have all the fans just yelling and everyone getting so excited,” LaBrie said. “The excitement really helps pump you up and it’s just a lot of fun. I love it.”
The excitement grew throughout the entire fourth set, starting with a kill by freshman outside hitter Nicole Leonard to give Whitworth its first lead of the set, and ending with a kill by Hedlund for a 25-23 win over Willamette.
In the fourth set alone Whitworth had nine blocks, led by two apiece from LaBrie and Stadeli.
“We really came together as a team and everybody completely contributed,” LaBrie said. “There was not one dominant person. It was just everybody working together and working their hardest.”
Whitworth expects to continue to find rhythm and improved play as it anticipates the hopeful return of two injured players, Maddye Dinsmore and Kristine Kardell.
The Pirates go into their next week of conference play looking for two more wins while on the road against Lewis & Clark on Wednesday and George Fox on Saturday.
Contact Megan John at firstname.lastname@example.org